Thursday, July 6, 2017

A Gathering of Gumshoes: Murder in Pastiche (1954), by Marion Mainwaring, Part Three

For the previous post on Marion Mainwaring's Murder in Pastiche, see here.

Before saying a fond goodbye to the Florabunda--where, you will recall, hateful syndicated columnist Paul Price has been murdered--and coming ashore, let's look at the last two detectives to investigate the case.

Mallory King
Most recent Ellery Queen novel at the time
The Scarlet Letters (1953)

searching for a pattern
The meaning of the scarf and pipe found under Price's body was incontrovertible.  They were symbols--the pipe in a punning way.  The murder was symbolic!

Mallory grinned at him.  "I haven't gone crazy.  At least I don't think so.  I'm just working on the suspects' names anagrammatically.

"I see..."

But Mallory, out of kindness, explained: "I mean, I rearrange the letters....Often names provide vital clues, you know.  They can influence character.  In one of my cases there were two brothers, called Kane and Judah:
their real names were Cain and Judas!

Turning from Spike Bludgeon (Mike Hammer) to Mallory King (Ellery Queen) in Murder in Pastiche is apt to give one whiplash, but it's truly striking, to be sure, how well Marion Mainwaring captures the styles and themes of both authors.

With Spike she gave us a typical Mickey Spillane revenge plot, with the tough guy dick--whose profound sense of disgruntlement with his lot in life and resentment against elites and "others" would have made him a wonderful focus group voter in last year's election--punching his way to a solution (though his paranoia leads him utterly, hilariously astray).

I feel so symbolic....
For his part, Mainwaring's cerebral Mallory King immediately starts searching for obscure symbols and strange patterns in the case. As he explains to the First Officer:

"My cases...always have some underlying pattern; some theme, some motif which unites and gives meaning to details which, on the surface, seem merely arbitrary and fantastic."

The first officer nodded intelligently.

"For instance, in one case the killer used the concept of the chain of evolution, working up from the murder of frogs, and dogs, and so on, to Man.  Another, with an Old Testament complex, used the scheme of the Ten Commandments. This time--"

"Yes?" Mr. Waggish asked eagerly.

"This time--Darn it," Mallory said plaintively.  "I simply don't know."

But Mallory sticks with it, and he begins to see the light, or what he fervidly imagines is light.

Concerning Ellery Queen, the ex-academic Mainwaring has a lot of fun with EQ half Frederic Dannay's obsession with patterns and symbols, so manifest in then-recent EQ fiction, like The Origin of Evil (1951), specifically referenced above by Mainwaring. Recalling another recent EQ novel, Double, Double (1950), the nursery rhyme The Farmer in the Dell even gets a workout--a very thorough workout!  It's a bravura performance by Mainwaring, even if EQ's brilliance leads him astray. Mainwaring leaves it to another detective to resolve the affair.

Lord Simon Quinsey
Most recent Lord Peter Wimsey novel at the time
Busman's Honeymoon (1937)

the gentleman is cogitatin', don't you know
A fleeting melancholy crossed Quinsey's long face.  "I know.  Et ego in Arcadia, Mr. Waggish."

Lord Peter comes out of a seventeen year retirement (fifteen if one counts the few Lord Peter stories in the collection In the Teeth of the Evidence) in Murder in Pastiche, in the guise of Lord Simon Quinsey, accompanied by his loyal manservant, Bunter--er, I mean Punter.

This is another smart Mainwaring appellation, recalling Simon Peter, of course; and, as for the surname Quinsey: "The crest of the ducal family" is "a domestic cat crouched as to spring" and its motto is "Lest Quinsy take me." Clever woman, that Marion Mainwaring!

Pastiche Artist
Marion Mainwaring
Mainwaring, whom I suspect was a particular Peter Wimsey fan, has the aristocrat put his finger on the essential clue, making the solution of the case possible.  I wonder whether Dorothy L. Sayers ever read Murder in Pastiche?   Lord Peter's creator died three years after the original publication of Mainwaring's second detective novel, never having brought Lord Peter back into print with a new adventure, much to the disappointment of her loyal mystery readers.

However, thanks to Marion Mainwaring's brilliance as a pastiche writer, mid-century detective fiction fans got once again to see Lord Peter--or a close facsimile thereof--in sleuthing action, along with eight other famous British and American detectives who were still active at the time of Pastiche's publication.

Today, over six decades later later, Murder in Pastiche indeed reads like a return to Arcadia, to what many of us see as, if I may borrow the title for a brief moment, the Golden Age of Murder.


  1. As I probably don't have to tell you, the "Cain and Judas" or at least Cain and Abel names were used in Queen's The King is Dead. Mainwaring really does seem to have done her homework.

    1. I really think she did! You have to really know the books to pull something like this off so successfully. I think the Mallory King pastiche is my favorite--or maybe Spike Bludgeon or Sir Jon. Nappleby. Now I'll have to read some more of the real things!